There have been several one-sided battles in Texas history, and people are showing renewed interest in them as the state approaches its 150th anniversary. The heroes of the Alamo and the martyrs of Goliad are in vogue. The worse the odds and more gruesome the outcome, the more Texans are inclined to mythicize their ancestors' losing struggles and recall them with pride and glory.
Even the Dallas Cowboys are getting in on the act. Perhaps in honor of the sesquicentennial, the state's, if not America's, favorite football team has staged two astonishing reenactments of hopeless encounters.
The first was held at Texas Stadium in November, with the Mexicans played by Mike Ditka and his Chicago Bears. Sports Illustrated gave the event a simple, powerful title on its cover: "44-0." Last week the Cowboys took their traveling history show to Cincinnati and put on another amazingly inept performance, this time losing, 50-24.
But apparently it is one thing for David Crockett and William B. Travis to fall to Santa Anna's multitudes and quite another for Everson Walls and Tom Landry to get burned by Boomer Esiason. The Siege of Chicago and the Campaign of Cincinnati are not fondly recalled in these parts. The Cowboys are being derided and ridiculed like never before. The town is mad. The team is embarrassed.
"When you lose by that many points and play that poorly, it hurts you, personally, and it hurts the whole organization," said Cowboys tight end Doug Cosbie. "It's just embarrassing and humiliating. It hurts you, it hurts the office workers, the cheerleaders, the guys in the towel room, the ballboys, the people of Dallas. Everybody hurts when you get your butts whipped like that."
Local cartoonists have put paper bags, the athletic symbol of humiliation, over the heads of Cowboys and placed them on a bench crowded with bag-headed representatives of more established losers in Texas sports -- the Houston Oilers and Astros and the Texas Rangers. The bold headline in the Dallas Times-Herald the day after Cincinnati was "Slaughterhouse II." The talk shows in Dallas and Fort Worth are dominated by fans who insist that the team has reached an all-time low.
Dallas is in ruins, or so it seems. Tex Schramm, the team's president, has only exaggerated the sense of gloom by pronouncing that the game with the New York Giants here Sunday will define the Cowboys for years to come.
If Dallas wins, according to Schramm, the 1985 team will be remembered as a crazy, resourceful outfit that finally got its act together.
But if it loses?
"If it loses," said Schramm, "it will mean that the Cowboys have dipped to their lowest point in 20 years in terms of prestige, image, competitiveness, everything."
Prestige and image are what the Cowboys are all about. Team representatives, even second-string interior linemen, talk about "the Cowboy mystique," which in essence is a superiority complex not unlike those of baseball's Yankees and basketball's Celtics. Players, when they become Cowboys, are somehow expected to assume physical talents they never had in high school and college. The team as a whole is expected to be different and better than others.
The Washington Redskins and their fans hate the Cowboys, naturally, but it is a provincial notion to assume their rivalry is the only one. Every team considers Dallas a strong rival, if not the rival.
It is only the great expectations, in fact, that make the Cowboys seem so vulnerable, so ordinary today. "That's just the way it is being a Cowboy," said free safety Michael Downs. "Anything less than the NFC championship game or the Super Bowl, and you've had a bad year."
The Cowboys are thought to be having a bad year even though preseason talent analyses by football reporters and scouts led to predictions they would finish somewhere between 8-8 and, if they were lucky, 10-6. They are thought to be having a bad year even though they still have a chance for the NFC championship game and the Super Bowl. They are 9-5, which places them at the top of the NFC Eastern Division along with the Giants, whom Dallas defeated earlier, 30-29. The winner of Sunday's game clinches the division title. The loser still can make the playoffs, although the task would be difficult for Dallas, whose final game is in San Francisco against the 49ers.
Most teams, and cities, would settle for the season Dallas has had. Twice they beat the Redskins, who had been hogging the division title in recent years. When they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals a few weeks ago, they were assured of a winning record for the 20th consecutive year, a log of consistent success unmatched in NFL history.
The team still is a prime attraction on the road. "I felt like I was advancing a circus," said Dallas publicist Doug Todd about the pregame hoopla in Cincinnati, a city in which the Cowboys had never played. And their corporate empire in north Texas glistens more than ever with the opening of what is called Cowboys Center, a development in Valley Ranch in the exurban plains northwest of the city, near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. It now includes the team's practice fields, training rooms and headquarters, and within a few years it is scheduled to have a multimedia Cowboys museum, a hotel and conference center, an athletic club and fitness center and an ice rink.
Still there is unease. The Cowboys are not behaving normally. The Cowboys are supposed to be consistent. They are not supposed to win one week and get clobbered the next. The ubiquitous Schramm, who has his own shows on TV and radio, does a commercial for a cellular telephone that sort of capsulizes his Cowboys Philosophy: "People have to be able to depend on you today, and the next day, and the next and the next," says Schramm in the commerical. "Consistency and continuity are important."
This year's team falls short of that standard. "We've been up and down the roller-coaster," said tailback Tony Dorsett. "You can't let it scare you, but it does concern you, that lack of consistency. We have to be more disciplined, have more respect, even fear. Respect and fear are two very important things in this business. If you don't respect the opponent, you won't play up to your potential. I think some guys might have said, 'To heck with the Cincinnati Bengals.' "
Losing in and of itself is nothing new to the players. Any athlete can accept a loss, usually better than the fans. Downs, for instance, when asked whether the Bears and Bengals games were a new experience for him, answered simply: "Hey, I played at Rice."
When Downs was at Rice, an academically elite school in Houston that competes against the football factories of the Southwest Conference, his team lost with consistency and some imagination. In his freshman year, LSU beat the Owls, 77-0.
"They were real good. We didn't have anything going for us. Ask Darryl Grant (the Redskins' defensive tackle, Downs' teammate at Rice). He'll remember. You never forget a game like that. It still haunts me. I still talk about it. But I guess I recovered enough to go out and lose again the next week.
"That's the way it was at Rice. We got embarrassed all the time. Maybe that's why I'm a little more able to handle what happened to us against the Bears and Cincinnati. At Rice we just didn't have the talent. Here we've got it. We've just got to be ready to use it."
Cosbie, a seven-year NFL veteran, played college football at Santa Clara, a Division II school that sometimes went up against big-time powers.
"There were times when we got destroyed," said Cosbie. "Sometimes the other team's line would outweigh ours by 30 or 40 pounds per man. There were times when the other team's fullback was bigger than anybody we had. We were beaten physically, on talent. When you know the other team is better, you can accept losing. But when you get beat mentally and psychologically, like we've been, that's harder to accept. That's embarrassing.
"But believe it or not, I think this team has a little more heart, more fight, than the last couple of years. And the nice thing is we're in an ideal situation to redeem ourselves.
"If we lose against the Giants we'll be remembered as the team that got humiliated twice and that maybe got knocked out of the playoffs two years in a row. But if we win, we win the title. We can save face, gain back some respect, and be the champs. You can't ask for more than that."